Better Homes

UTD reverses course, announces improvements at its Waterview dorm

In April, officials at the University of Texas at Dallas said conditions at the Waterview Park Apartments, the nation's largest private dorm, couldn't be better.

Robert Lovitt, then the top university official over Waterview, called it "one of the best success stories in the United States."

You won't hear UTD officials making those kinds of claims today.

Dr. David E. Daniel, who took over as UTD president in June, recently ordered the inspection of every apartment at Waterview as part of his plan to overhaul the complex. Daniel told the Dallas Observer it will take an outside firm several weeks to inspect all of Waterview's 1,238 apartments. But that's fine with the UTD president as long as the result is what he believes every student deserves. "In a couple of words--first-class residential housing," Daniel says.

Several Waterview residents say maintenance has been a joke. "I've had water problems in the bathroom for months," says Brian Tucker, a mathematical education major. "I told them to fix it last July, and it still hasn't been fixed."

Tucker and others say they welcome Daniel's willingness to tackle Waterview's many problems. "If they do their job correctly," he said, "if they do what they say they're going to do, then it would be great."

In "The Dorm From Hell," an April 28 cover story, the Observer reported that many residents at Waterview endured black mold, broken toilets, leaking ceilings, violent crime, poor security and inadequate maintenance in their apartments.

Robert K. Utley III, the Dallas developer who built Waterview, told the Observer the complex has provided his family with $10 million in profits. Utley said security and maintenance had long been inadequate, but he blamed the international students' way of life for creating many of the problems at the complex. "Because a lot of the foreign students cook fish and curry, it's embedded in the walls," he said then. "We have to rip the carpet out at turnover."

An independent panel that investigated the Observer's findings said otherwise. In its final report, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Residential Housing said Waterview's problems resulted from officials who put more emphasis on making money than providing decent housing. In the words of the commission, "Maximizing revenue was the primary goal of campus housing."

Daniel vowed this will change. "We were maximizing revenue at the expense of maintenance," he said. "Now the pendulum needs to swing to the other side."

The presidential commission surveyed more than 500 residents at Waterview and found more than half had problems. "Maintenance of individual apartments and common spaces is the most severe and chronic problem facing residential housing," according to the commission.

"They are horrible at upkeep," says Andrea Sarine, a sophomore at UTD. "They claimed they have sprayed for roaches, but I still see them around. And it took about a month for them to replace my microwave."

The panel's final report suggested that those responsible for Waterview operated with no accountability or oversight even though its first apartments opened in 1989. The commission said there was no system of inspections, no performance standards regarding housing quality and no system of preventive maintenance at the nation's largest private dorm.

In fact, the report found that no one person was in charge of the complex and its almost 4,000 beds. To correct that problem, the panel recommended that officials create an Office of Residential Housing. Daniel agrees and says the search is already under way to hire someone to run this office.

Many students applauded Daniel and his staff for finally listening to them. "I'm glad they are talking more to residents now," says Chiyo Johnson, a senior interdisciplinary major. "It seemed like that before they were doing things for us instead of doing things with us."

Waterview residents have had to cope with more than substandard living conditions and poor maintenance. Ten rapes were reported there in the past three years, including four in the fall semester. Yet UTD issued just two crime alerts telling students what had happened. Many students said security was poor. Lovitt dismissed those concerns. "[There's] no crime problem," he said in April.

Again, the presidential commission disagreed. It said that between 1999 and 2004 the number of students at Waterview grew nearly 40 percent. During that same period, the campus police force added just one officer. In response, Daniel has promised to improve lighting, add more emergency call boxes and hire 10 additional officers to patrol the complex--a 60 percent increase in the UTD police force.

The final report recommends that university officials establish a permanent program to address the threat of rape at the complex, including the formation of a Sexual Assault Response Team. Daniel said he will discuss this soon with UTD Police Chief Colleen Ridge.